Merkley, Wyden and Begich Introduce Proposal to Hire Veterans to Assist with Marine Debris Cleanup

U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley, Ron Wyden and Mark Begich (D-AK) today introduced an amendment to employ veterans as coordinators of community clean ups of marine debris from the Japanese tsunami of last year. They offered the amendment to the Veterans Job Corps Act of 2012, which is being considered in the Senate this week. 

The Veterans Job Corps Act of 2012 would put veterans to work throughout the U.S. as law enforcement officers and firefighters as well as on conservation projects.  It would also provide training and career transition assistance to unemployed veterans.  Young veterans particularly struggle with a higher unemployment rate than the general population, about 11%.  The $1 billion dollar program is paid for by increasing tax enforcement on delinquent Medicare providers and others who owe more than $50,000 in back taxes.  

“We need to clean up the tsunami debris coming our way, and plenty of veterans need jobs,” said Sen. Merkley. “The answer isn’t complicated.  Our veterans have the leadership skills to do a great job tackling this challenge. This amendment makes sure veterans have much-needed jobs to come home to and our coastal communities get the help they need” 

“Our nation cannot stand by as veterans  struggle to find work.  Nor can we ignore the real crisis of tsunami debris washing up on our beaches and estuaries.  Our legislation is a way to take advantage of veterans’ unique skills and help address both problems,” said Senator Wyden. 

“We know that the military does a great job of training men and women to be team leaders, but that after their service these vets often feel isolated from their communities.” said Begich.  “At the same time, Alaska, the west coast, and Hawaii face an onslaught of marine debris from the Japanese tsunami which the administration has yet to address.  Our amendment would use the leadership skills the vets developed in the military and get them connected to their communities, putting them to work organizing volunteers to clean-up the tsunami debris which is threatening our coasts. It is a classic win-win situation.”  

The amendment would ensure that 5%, or $50 million, was set aside to hire veterans to help coordinate community clean-ups of marine debris from the tsunami which is inundating west coast and Alaska beaches.  In addition to employing veterans, the funds could also be used for logistical support for the clean-ups, for things like supplies, transportation or marine debris disposal. 

Under the amendment, the $50 million would be administered in grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to non-governmental organizations or state or local governments to hire veterans as part of their marine debris response efforts.